The Calgary Flames have spent this offseason working to become a contender sooner rather than later.
The defence is now theoretically stacked, assuming Travis Hamonic and Michael Stone can rebound from the worst seasons of their careers – and considering their ages and injury histories, there’s reason to believe it. The dead weight on defence is gone; now, it looks like a group that can contend with the best of them.
The goaltending has been modified, as well. The duo of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson lost the team’s confidence; for better or worse, they’ve been replaced with Mike Smith and Eddie Lack. We don’t know if that’s necessarily an upgrade – but it’s done.
Forwards haven’t been addressed, though. There are new faces in every position but up front, and the only real upgrade we can see there is along the lines of, “Well maybe this is the year Sam Bennett breaks out?” and, “Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau should be better with a full year of Glen Gulutzan plus an actual training camp under their belts.” It’s reasonable to expect some growth among the younger forwards – and several are still rather young – but the top nine has a glaring hole (and that’s with us assuming Micheal Ferland truly is the best bet to be the first line right winger).
Having spots available for prospects is a good thing, and the Flames should have a couple of forwards knocking on the door this training camp. But here’s my question: if the Flames are so willing to deal picks left and right for meaningful upgrades so they can contend right now, should they not go all in? Rather than rely on a rookie to fill a top nine hole – and remember, in all likelihood this rookie won’t be able to step in the way Matthew Tkachuk did this past season – why not go in for an established player and really load it up, right now?
There aren’t too many options available in free agency. The best bet is probably the 45-year-old Jaromir Jagr, and really, anyone with solid offensive potential isn’t all that much younger than him. All that leaves is a trade, and with the Flames getting thin on picks, they’d have to trade prospects.
Do they have enough to maybe land that one last big fish – and maybe not mortgage the future along the way?
The Flames have a number of prospective forwards, some better than others. For example, I’m not entirely sure if we should count Hunter Smith or Austin Carroll as prospects – I mean, sure, they have contracts and were drafted so they technically are, but is anybody expecting these guys to actually make the NHL? If they do they probably at best turn into Garnet Hathaway, and guys like that are pretty easy to come by.
Nah. Let’s just stick with the players who have shown potential to perhaps be impact players at some point – players who probably have some trade value.
For centres, there’s Mark Jankowski, Dillon Dube, Daniel Pribyl, and that’s about it. Linus Lindstrom is still over in Sweden, so it might be another season or two before we can begin to consider him, while Adam Ruzicka was only just drafted. Matthew Phillips could fit the bill, too, but if he makes the NHL I’d bet it’s as a winger.
Left wing has a couple of names, mostly Andrew Mangiapane, Morgan Klimchuk, and Hunter Shinkaruk. Right wing has a few more after this offseason: Emile Poirier, Spencer Foo, and maybe Eetu Tuulola and a couple of the kids just picked up in the 2017 NHL draft.
It’s not a big group – but it’s also one in which you’re hoping at least one of these kids, somewhere, is ready to step into full time NHL duty come October. Does it make sense to wait for them, or maybe trade a couple of names to get someone who we know is an impact player right now, in the midst of the Flames trying to open up their window this season?
These are the real sweeteners in any trade. Of all positions, the Flames’ defence is the one to be in the most awe of. If their offseason bets pan out, they have one of the best defensive groups in the NHL already – and that’s with a number of high potential players perhaps knocking on the door as soon as next season, if not this upcoming one.
Assuming Brett Kulak and/or Tyler Wotherspoon is in the NHL this year, on the left side, the Flames have Juuso Valimaki and Oliver Kylington waiting (plus Adam Ollas Mattsson and Josh Healey, if you’re so inclined). On the right, there’s Rasmus Andersson and Adam Fox.
Considering the contracts the Flames are already committed to – and with nary a Dennis Wideman nor Deryk Engelland type in the bunch – there’s no way they have room for all of these guys, even if they all pan out. A lot of high-end defensive prospects, a shortage of high quality forwards – does it not make sense to trade from a position of strength to help a weaker group? It may suck to give up on any of these guys, especially if they pan out, but you have to give to get, and hoarding a ton of defencemen and not doing anything with them while your forwards could use some help is just wasteful.
With Jon Gillies and David Rittich re-signed, we’ve written a fair bit on this topic. That’s because Tyler Parsons is also here to force the Flames’ hand, and he may be the best bet of the three. In this case, it’s the same situation as the defensive prospects, but with even less room.
Don’t hoard. Address your weaknesses instead.
So… trade for who?
Okay so mostly I’m thinking of Matt Duchene, who we know is on the trading block, and who we know the Flames are (were?) interested in. When we last brought up Duchene, it was under the context of trading Sam Bennett for him.
But what if there was a way to trade for him and get a top nine that looks like, say, this:
|Johnny Gaudreau||Sean Monahan||Micheal Ferland|
|Matthew Tkachuk||Mikael Backlund||Michael Frolik|
|Sam Bennett||Matt Duchene||Kris Versteeg|
And then the fourth line consists of Who, Really, and Cares. (Or like, Matt Stajan, Curtis Lazar, and Troy Brouwer, so basically the same thing.) You put that forward group with the new and much-improved defence and suddenly that proclamation of, “Hey, we’re officially contending this year,” becomes really, really convincing.
Would the Avalanche go for this? I have no idea, especially as they’ve proven they’re willing to be pretty patient when it comes to dealing Duchene (or Gabriel Landeskog, for that matter). There would be other parts to sort out – particularly so the Flames would have room for Duchene’s cap hit – but if the Avalanche would consider a package of higher end Flames picks worth their while, the Flames should be willing to part with some of those assets, shouldn’t they? I do want to stress this is all highly speculative, and maybe the Flames have already tried something like this and been turned down because I don’t think anyone’s quite sure what Colorado actually expects to get for Duchene, but from our limited vantage point it’s certainly worth musing over.
This entire offseason has been about trading the future for the now; trading prospects for another established forward would just be another edition of it. And really, the Flames can afford to lose a goalie. They can afford to lose a defenceman. And considering the ages of some of their higher end forwards, they can probably afford to lose one of their better prospective guys up front, too.
If Calgary really is serious about contending right now, and some of their prospects are determined to have enough value… they kind of have to consider dealing prospects, don’t they? A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. At this juncture an established player could be the one to put them over the top right now, as opposed to hoping a present day teenager will do it in five years. It’s absolutely a risk, but the Flames have been edging towards an all-in status these past couple of months, anyway. If it’s possible, might as well take the plunge proper.